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To Selfie or Not to Selfie: Guiding Kids Through Digital Adolescence

mona-lisa-selfie-portraitI’m glad we didn’t have the Internet when I was a kid. I didn’t have enough scruples to be making calls about selfies and tweets that last forever out there in the cyber world. My kids are first generation digital natives, and I’m not exactly sure how to help them navigate through digital adolescence.

A cheerful teenager tweeting a selfie from Auschwitz prompted this thoughtful response from Craig Detweiler. He points out the inappropriateness of thoughtless, self-absorbed selfies snapped and posted by clueless teens from sacred or solemn places. It struck a nerve with me because my husband and I are taking our four kids (ages 7, 11, 14, and 17) to London this fall. My kids all have phones or iPods and will definitely be using their devices to record the trip. In fact, I plan to Instagram the heck out of it myself.

This is a far cry from the days of film cameras and printed photos. When my oldest son was a baby (17 years ago) scapbooking was all the rage. I know! So quaint. I spent hours cropping and gluing and decorating scrapbook pages that detailed the highlights of his young life. It was a labor of love that, frankly, looks very crafty and unattractive to me now. But I’m glad I have the documentation of those early parenting moments.

My iPhone keeps track of all my photos and dates now, and I encourage my kids to snap photos and share them on Facebook and Instagram. It’s our collective family album. However, I still can’t wrap my head around the selfie mentality. Today, children don’t think twice about contributing to their digital archive, and constructing their public persona has become second nature. Just a couple of weeks ago I was snapping a group shot of teenage girls at summer camp. They were all shapes and sizes, wearing zero makeup, and looking a little haggard from a week of camping. On “three” each girl intuitively tilted her head and body to flattering angles and pulled a selfie smile. It was startling. It’s fine to be that self aware, but unchecked selfie culture encourages kids to be narcissistic and vain, turning friends into an audience.

I follow my kids on Instagram and keep up on what they post. I tell them when I think they seem vain and encourage them not to just post pictures of themselves. Sometimes it’s the comments that get me: “Love you BAE heart heart heart.” At the risk of coming off as a fuddy duddy, I question the banality of the comments. “What does this even mean?” They tease me because I don’t “get it,” but I think talking about it raises their awareness of how superficial Instagram can get.

Since self-documentation is the new normal, we need to figure out the least tacky way to go about it. It gets difficult because our kids can encounter new technology every day, and we as parents don’t have a rule book — we’re making it up ad hoc. When I’m on my trip to London with my kids, I do want all of us to take a lot of pictures so we remember it. That is, after all, an important part of family culture that binds us together. But learning to respect the sacred sites we visit and to enjoy the moment is an important lesson, too. Many of the places my family will visit in London don’t even allow photography, like the Jewel Tower or the inside of Westminster Abbey, which will make it easier navigating the “to selfie or not to selfie” questions I’ll get from my kids. Before we go into a venue, we’ll have a quick chat about whether or not pictures are allowed and whether or not a funny picture is appropriate. This is something I’ll have to really think about, too, because I’m a sucker for taking a funny photo. I’ll explain that we need to consider what might be offensive or thoughtless. But when we’re cruising along on top of our double-decker tour bus from Trafalgar Square to Baker Street, I think we’ll let the camera phones roll and let Instagram in on all the fun we’re having.

How do you navigate the digital world with your kids?

Photo Source: Amazon

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